A bi-monthly update on the work of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)


See previous issues 1.1 | 1.2 | 1.3 | 2.1 | 2.2 | 2.3 | 2.4 | 2.5 | 2.6 | 3.1 | 3.2 | 3.3 | 3.4 | 3.5 | 3.6 | 4.1 | 4.2/4.3 | 4.4.

In this issue







From the Executive Secretary
“We need to ensure that sustainable land management becomes part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is mainstreamed in the entire post-2015 development agenda.” More…

Publications, websites etc. More…

Pathways to a land-degradation neutral world
The concept of a land-
degradation neutral world is gaining momentum and many people believe it has good prospects of becoming one of the Sustainable Development Goals. What's next on the road to land-degradation neutrality? More…

Land degradation undermines humankind’s prospects of living in peace
Klaus Töpfer, former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations campaigns for making the protection of land a priority on the post-2015 agenda. More…

Landscaping the future
“Landscapes” are a fairly new and promising way of thinking about the management of land. Read more about what this approach entails and what various stakeholders expect of it. More…


At the crossroads: moving towards sustainability

A growing movement has emerged which places land at the heart of an effective response to many global problems. In part, this has been triggered by the preparatory process for the Rio+20 Summit, where the idea of a land-degradation neutral world took shape. I am very pleased to see that since then, many politicians, scientists and practitioners have committed to develop this innovative approach in really practical ways.

However, it is not all plain sailing. The outcomes of the Climate Change Conference in Doha, for example, were disappointing from both a climate and an agricultural perspective, with the key issues of land and agriculture postponed for another year. How much more evidence is needed before effective action is taken?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 25 per cent of the world’s land is highly degraded and only 10 per cent is improving. Every minute, a staggering 23 hectares of productive land and soil are lost to desertification and drought alone. Land degradation can no longer be ignored.

We need to ensure that sustainable land management, in particluar achieving a land-degradation neutral world becomes part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is mainstreamed in the entire post-2015 development agenda. Sustainable land management and achieving land-degradation neutrality are ideas whose time has come. Good land management would help meet the food, energy and water security needs of the rural poor, forming the basis of economic growth and thus helping to lift people out of poverty. At the same time, we will all benefit from greater food price stability, effective climate change adaptation and mitigation and the ecosystem services provided by land and soil.

Anyone can help breathe life into the concept of a land-degradation neutral world. We call for the world to commit to sustainable land use for all and by all and to achieve zero net land degradation (ZNLD) as soon as possible and no later than by 2030. You can play an important role. Land degradation should be avoided and every hectare of degrading land should be offset by the same amount of land restored, preferably in the same landscape. Land users should receive incentives through payments for ecosystem services and we want to see more investments in dryland productivity and better land-use accounting. Land-degradation neutral policies will be more inclusive and accountable, with mechanisms established to measure action at the landscape as well as user-community level.

Many solutions already exist at the grassroots and we will rely on farmers’ sharing their experience and replicating their success. But policies and institutions should be designed and/or reshaped for the purposes of scaling up and out.

Is this just wishful thinking? My answer is an unequivocal “no”, but there is a great deal of work to be done if we want to turn this concept into viable and effective action. We are at a crucial crossroads for the future we want. Let’s not miss this opportunity. Our land and soils need us to choose the right way forward. Join us on this journey.

Luc Gnacadja
Executive Secretary


Pathways to a land-degradation neutral world

What started as an idea in 2009 became a global goal at the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012. Now the concept of a land-degradation neutral world is gaining momentum and many people believe it has good prospects of becoming one of the Sustainable Development Goals which are to replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015.

Experts from different fields are currently bringing the concept of a land-degradation neutral world to life, spelling out principles, criteria and targets, such as zero net land degradation by 2030, and defining actions. In November 2012 alone, four major international conferences dealt with this issue: the International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands in Doha, Qatar, the Fourth International Conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, the European Commission’s conference on Land and Soil Degradation post Rio+20 and the First Global Soil Week in Berlin.

The main reason why the issue of land management, including soils, water and vegetation, is gaining momentum in the international arena is that land degradation is increasing everywhere. Some figures show that more than 20 per cent of the planet’s land is now degraded. In an increasingly interdependent world, land degradation and desertification have major implications for food, water and energy availability, climate change, biodiversity loss and many other problems of major concern to the international community.

More than 20 per cent of the planet’s land is now degraded.

If the UNCCD is to achieve its long-term objective of combating land degradation and desertification and mitigating the effects of drought, especially in developing countries, integrated approaches are needed to improve the effectiveness of action at all levels. These must be supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements. Long-term strategies to achieve a land-degradation neutral world must prioritise affected areas and aim to improve the productivity of land resources through sustainable management.

A goal and targets point the way forward

A land-degradation neutral world, as stated in paragraphs 205-209 of the Rio+20 outcome document The Future We Want, is an ambitious long-term goal. It refers to the bio-physical and socio-economic conditions that must prevail within a landscape, ecosystem or worldwide so that the amount of productive and healthy land remains stable or increases. During the Rio+20 process, the UNCCD defined three specific targets to achieve this overarching goal, with a clear timeframe:

  • - Target 1: Zero net land degradation by 2030
  • - Target 2: Zero net forest degradation by 2030
  • - Target 3: National drought preparedness policies implemented
    in all drought-prone countries by 2020

The main focus of the UNCCD’s attention is the target of zero net land degradation (ZNLD) as an urgent and intermediate step towards achieving a land-degradation neutral world. It aims to ensure that the amount of fertile land (soil, water and vegetation) available today is maintained at the current level for the next twenty years. The emphasis is on “net” and the approach is a realistic one: It acknowledges that in the short term, it will not be possible to achieve a land-degradation neutral world, but it is possible to stop land degradation in an area equal to the degrading land - ideally in the same landscape, community or ecosystem - by offsetting land degradation by land restoration.

The UNCCD’s vision for a land-degradation neutral world means that by 2030, global land degradation and desertification will be reduced to a minimum, with options to offset the remaining land degradation and desertification through sustainable land management and restoration efforts. As UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja explains, this innovative concept “can easily be understood in all social and economic contexts and provides the opportunity to frame land and soil degradation as global issues and to ensure that sustainable land management and restoration are reflected everywhere at every scale.” With this approach, ZNLD goes far beyond the UNCCD’s original focus on the world’s drylands and takes into account that land is a global issue.

ZNLD goes far beyond the UNCCD’s original focus on the world’s drylands.

The idea of “zero net” for environmental protection has already been implemented to tackle deforestation. In 2010, the government of the Canadian province of British Columbia was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to introduce a zero net deforestation goal into legislation. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has also announced that it supports a global target of zero net deforestation and forest degradation by 2020.

Many people are expecting the ZNLD approach to produce far-reaching results which go well beyond the immediate effects on land management. According to Uriel Safriel, Special Advisor to the Scientific Committee of the Conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification in Israel in November 2012: “Setting and attaining the target of a zero net rate of land degradation could reverse the vicious cycle of land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss. Reducing rates of land degradation and restoring recent and historically degraded lands would reduce poverty of local land users and increase global food security. The same measures, at the same time, reduce emissions and increase sequestration, thus contributing to reducing global warming and moving forward the climate system towards stability at the aspired greenhouse gas atmospheric concentration.”

The need for a land-degradation neutral world is obvious and largely undisputed. Even so, there is little awareness of the serious environmental and social impacts of land degradation, which exacerbates poverty and hunger, threatens biodiversity and worsens climate change. In the long term, the costs of land degradation will soar – and everyone will have to pay their share. For now, however, no one has put a price on land degradation, according to Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). He points out that people currently perceive land as a commodity and that it is very hard to dissuade land users from practising unsustainable land management techniques which worsen land degradation.

There is too little awareness of the serious impacts of land degradation.


The target of zero net land degradation has attracted widespread political support among the Parties to the UNCCD. Qatar, the Republic of Korea, the European Union and Switzerland are just some of its advocates. Moreover, the G-77 countries and China strongly advocated for the wording on a land-degradation neutral world at the Rio+20 Conference. The European Union has proposed a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020, which states that the Union has agreed to strive to achieve a land-degradation neutral world in the context of sustainable development. In the Arusha Declaration on Africa’s Post Rio+20 Strategy for Sustainable Development, the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) declared that it would “address and meet the commitment made at the Rio+20 Conference to strive to achieve a land-degradation neutral world in the context of sustainable development and within the implementation for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.”

The target of ZNLD is beneficial for the implementation of the Conventions and its Parties, says Sergio Zelaya, Coordinator of the Policy Advocacy and Global Issues Unit at the UNCCD Secretariat. It enables coherent policy-relevant and holistic approaches to be implemented at the national level, and facilitates partnerships with international institutions and donors – such as the FAO with its agricultural programmes and strategies, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) with its agenda on drought and the UNCCD with its focus on land – in support of a common target. The UN agencies have worked hard to highlight the importance of drylands and their linkage with key emerging issues on the international agenda, including climate change, food security and human settlements. The UN report Global Drylands, presented at the 2011 UNCCD COP, calls for a UN system-wide response and sets out a common vision and agenda for UN-wide action on drylands management. Follow-up must now focus on its role in addressing climate change and food security through a positive drylands development and investment approach, which can be best achieved with a clear target such as ZNLD.

Still, a few stakeholders are hesitant or even opposed to this approach and don’t believe that the target of zero net land degradation is politically achievable. However, many case studies show that both in drylands and non-drylands, degraded land can be restored, while healthy land can be protected by applying sustainable land management practices supported by appropriate policy measures.

To achieve the target of ZNLD, broad stakeholder support is crucial. Speaking at the EU conference on Land and Soil Degradation post Rio+20, Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, said that halting land degradation is not just a matter for the European Commission and governments, but requires the commitment and support of all stakeholders, from farmers to researchers and civil society. At the Global Soil Week in Berlin, Professor Eduardo Viola from the University of Brasília invited countries with progressive approaches towards ZNLD to establish an ambitious coalition in order to assert their position and influence global public opinion.

Ways to achieve ZNLD

The key to success is action on the ground, translating the overarching goal of preserving healthy land and restoring degraded land into measures tailored to suit each society, ecosystem or landscape. Land degradation has many different facets depending on the local situation, so solutions may vary considerably from place to place. They can include afforestation, establishing perennial vegetation cover, enclosures against open grazing, water harvesting, management and recycling, applying soil amendments and strategies for creating positive nutrients and carbon budgets, and payments to land managers for provisioning ecosystem services, said Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University, at the Conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification.

The key to success is action on the ground.

Although policy action should build and capitalise on success stories at the grassroots level, it is vital to set a clear course at the international level as well. From a UNCCD perspective, the to-do list for achieving ZNLD by 2030 must therefore include three major areas of action:

  • - creating a stronger institutional framework
  • - assessing and informing about the economics of land degradation
  • - establishing a global scientific authority on land and soils

These issues urgently need to be addressed in order to facilitate a rational policy for global land-degradation neutrality.

At the first Global Soil Week in Berlin, participants at the session on global land and soil degradation reported a serious lack of awareness among the general public about land degradation and its effects. They stressed that a clear message needs to be sent out to the public, comparable to the 2° Celsius global warming guard rail in the climate process. ZNLD – if communicated effectively – could help to raise this awareness.

Monitoring and assessment

But how can we know how much land is degraded compared with the land restored? “We need a sound monitoring and assessment system for detecting and quantifying land degradation and for tracking progress towards this goal at the local, national, regional and global level,” says Luc Gnacadja. “Such an assessment should also aim to quantify the costs, benefits and impacts of sustainable land management on food security, water availability and climate change mitigation for better targeted investments,” he adds.

A baseline will have to be established for this monitoring and assessment system. Experts agree that the best approach is to start with small pilot schemes, which can then be evaluated and scaled up.

“Monitoring the restoration of desertified land by revegetation should be feasible immediately,” said Alan Grainger at the Conference on Drylands in Israel. However, monitoring a reduction in rates of desertification would not be feasible because no baseline rates are currently available and national and international scientific capacities to measure desertification are lacking. He suggested an implementation process in three phases. First, the focus would be on restoring degraded lands, improving national land-use planning systems and expanding international and national monitoring capacities, for example, by establishing a panel on land to advise and identify indicators, and by setting up Global Desertification Observation System. The next phase would be to reduce desertification rates with the support of fully integrated systems for land-use planning and monitoring. The last phase would be to set a target year for the attainment of the ZNLD goal, based on experience gained with the first two stages.

Apart from a baseline and benchmarks, monitoring and assessing land degradation and restoration requires robust and reliable indicators which can also serve as a science-practice interface. However, as Quang Bao Le from the Institute for Environmental Decisions in Zurich pointed out at Global Soil Week, capturing the complexity of land degradation with indicators is a great challenge. Limited scientific harmonisation of various existing assessment approaches would hamper the achievement of a consensus on indicators and results, he said.


For a global goal or target to be pursued seriously and to prevent it from being watered down, some kind of regulation is needed. This must be agreed at the international level, because the protection of the land’s fertility and productiveness is a global concern. National legislation would fall short of what is needed, especially with regard to land’s crucial role in global food security. Speaking at the Drylands Conference in Israel, Luc Gnacadja reiterated that at the intergovernmental level, an agreement on a new dedicated legal instrument would empower the international community to act with the speed and on the scale required to address this major problem. The question whether this should be a voluntary or binding arrangement aroused intense debate at the Global Soil Week. Alexander Müller (FAO) reminded the audience that negotiating regulations is a long process; the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests had been debated for five years before they were finally adopted in 2012. Karl Falkenberg, EU Director-General for the Environment, pointed out that the international community does not have unlimited time available to negotiate regulations, because action is urgently needed in view of the serious state of land worldwide. He also referred to the very limited effects of longstanding voluntary non-smoking campaigns. However, binding agreements can also be rather weak if key players are not willing to commit themselves, as experience with the Kyoto Protocol in the climate process shows. Achieving a binding protocol is even much more difficult than agreeing on voluntary guidelines, which at least define the main standards to work towards at global and national level.

A legally binding agreement or voluntary guidelines?

What next?

Luc Gnacadja is optimistic: “In the past, such a goal was unattainable. But today, scientific findings and technical know-how indicate that we can achieve a land-degradation neutral world. Zero net land degradation is scientifically sound, technically feasible, and economically advantageous. It is not only possible but a prerequisite for sustainable development.” So the technological potential exists. However, harnessing this potential to stop land degradation will require a major commitment from politicians.

The UNCCD will continue to explore the concept of a land-degradation neutral world and develop the three targets, including analysing the costs and benefits of the concepts. Major UNCCD stakeholders have already committed to participate in this expert review. It will certainly be on the agenda of the next UNCCD Conference of the Parties with consultations at stakeholder and country level continuing in the coming years.

The next crucial milestone at the global level will be the definition of the future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Currently, a United Nations commission is working on drafting these goals and there is strong support for making land-degradation neutral world an SDG. After that, pilot schemes on ZNLD must be implemented at the local/national level in order to move the process forward from pure advocacy to innovative action on the ground.

As Luc Gnacadja says: “The time is ripe to agree on a new Sustainable Development Goal for zero net land degradation to secure the continuing availability of productive land for present and future generations.”


Klaus Töpfer: Land degradation undermines humankind’s prospects of living in peace

Professor Dr Klaus Töpfer was Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1998 to 2006. Today, he serves as Executive Director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) based in Potsdam, Germany, which he co-founded in 2009. Prior to joining the United Nations in 1998, he was Germany’s Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (1987 to 1994) and Federal Minister for Regional Planning, Housing and Urban Development from 1994 to 1998. In 2012, Professor Töpfer was inducted in the “Earth Hall of Fame Kyoto”.

How would you describe the current state of land degradation?

Over the last 50 years, the worldwide amount of arable land per person has decreased by 50 per cent and much of the remaining area is degraded. More than 90 per cent of our food is produced on land and in 2050, nine billion people will want to live without hunger. So the decrease in the amount of fertile land available is seriously undermining humankind’s prospects of living in peace.

At the Rio+20 Summit, the call for a land-degradation neutral world was made. What’s your view on that?

A land-degradation neutral world is a challenging goal which needs to be complemented with targets and timelines.

The Millennium Development Goals overlooked two important aspects: land and energy. The post-2015 agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals should not repeat that mistake and should instead make protecting land a priority.

But it’s not necessarily about trying to achieve a binding international agreement – these are often very difficult to accomplish, and failure to achieve an agreement could serve as an excuse for doing nothing, which is something we want to avoid. There are many other options available. I myself am a strong advocate for awareness-raising, for example.

Who are the key target groups which we need to engage?

Too many people are still ignoring the parlous state of our land and soils. Therefore, we have to reach out to the wider public and convince people that we need to change the way we treat land and soil.

We need to intensify our cooperation with farmers and industrial sectors which are directly linked to food production and infrastructure.

In my view, it is vital to adopt integrated responses to land degradation, addressing all three pillars of sustainability: economy, ecology and society. Governance responses need to begin with the local and national level where soil and land-use decisions are taken. They will also need to ensure that relevant global soil functions are sustained. In this context I recommend a review of the effectiveness of international agreements, both binding and voluntary.

How should the international community go about achieving its goal?

I think that the concept needs to be action-oriented. For instance, it is crucial to assess changes in land use and analyse their implications for soil stability and fertility.

Many people argue that land is primarily a local and national issue. But this view overlooks the secondary effects of land degradation which transcend national boundaries, such as climate change in the long term and sand storms which have immediate effects. This is why the international community has to address land issues and develop common guidelines.

Land degradation is not only a problem faced by the global South. Of course, in Africa or Asia it is combined with other challenges such as climate change and a massive increase in population, so it poses a major threat. But we should be aware that Germany, for instance, imports food and fodder grown on more than 70 million hectares of agricultural land and forestry in other countries such as Argentina or China. So it would be very short-sighted for countries not directly affected by land degradation to ignore this massive challenge. Germany, for instance, has a responsibility to ensure that other countries’ land is not degraded, for it relies on healthy soils overseas.

Land degradation is not only a problem faced by the global South.

What should be the first step?

Action to reverse land degradation is urgently needed and it is needed now. From my perspective, a good starting point would be to identify test regions in order to collect hard data on land degradation.

Capacity building is another key area of action. Farmers need to be aware of the possibilities to manage land more sustainably at the local level. The knowledge is available; it just needs to be brought to the people who depend on it.

Today, farmers lose around one third of their harvest on the way to market due to inadequate infrastructure and cooling chains, for example. We can easily reduce this unnecessary loss by investing in infrastructure. It is vital to help local farmers manage their land more sustainably.

In addition, the industrialised countries must abandon their welfare approach to international trade. If people in the Northern hemisphere changed their consumption and production patterns for the good of land worldwide, a lot would be gained.

What about the interface between science and politics?

First, research should not only be interdisciplinary, but transdisciplinary. That means that aspects of policy and implementation must be part of the approach to scientific enquiry from the outset. I see a clear knowledge gap between science and politics and I am committed to closing it.

What others say about the goal of a land-degradation neutral world

Better diagnosis

Richard Thomas, Assistant Director, United Nations University, International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH):

Whatever approach the international community agrees on regarding land degradation, it has to look at the reasons why degradation occurs. We need to identify and understand the drivers of land degradation. And we need to ask why people degrade land. Is it a lack of knowledge? Are there any cultural reasons? Is it because of population density? What about technological or political constraints? Answers are always context-specific. This is why case studies are so important.

Baselines and scaling up

Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University:

The concept of ZNLD is very good. In further developing this goal, it is important to establish a baseline. First, we have to identify the level and type of degradation. Then, in a second step, we can apply the appropriate restoration techniques.

I recommend identifying locations in specific regions as benchmarks where restoration measures can be implemented and their effects monitored. If the results are positive, these approaches can then be scaled up. Start small!

We will not be able to achieve the goal of ZNLD without taking women, especially in Africa and Asia, on board. We will have to ensure that they have the resources to implement sustainable land management practices. Implementing a ZNLD policy always has to consider gender equality.

A clear candidate for a Sustainable Development Goal

Karl Falkenberg, European Commission, Director-General, Environment:

I think ZNLD is a clear candidate for a Sustainable Development Goal. Once an SDG, it will have to be translated into reality and incorporated into national legislation. The way in which this goal is achieved will vary considerably from place to place because of the many different features of degradation in different locations and the varying speed of degradation.


Landscaping the future

“Landscapes” are an innovative way of thinking and acting on land. Rather than seeing land stewardship as the management of separate natural resources, the landscape approach considers the needs and interests of all users by looking at the diverse and interconnected functions of landscape and its elements. A landscape approach is holistic, localised and multi-disciplinary.

In everyday language, “landscape” usually has a positive connotation, especially in relation to its appearance. People are often closely attached to a certain type of landscape that gives them a sense of home. In Western visual arts, paintings depicting the beauty of landscape have been popular since the 17th century. Landscapes evoke positive emotions and, if need be, a desire to protect them.

Today, landscapes are finding their way into the scientific, political and economic debate, especially about land stewardship. But what does “landscape” mean from an environmental conservation and sustainable development perspective? Broadly speaking, a landscape can be defined as a connected area with a set of distinct ecological, cultural and socioeconomic characteristics – a meeting ground between nature and people, the past and the present. Within a landscape, local users are likely to have diverse needs and interests. A landscape approach recognises that different parts of the landscape provide different goods and services – water, agriculture, energy and fishing, for example – to support;livelihoods and that these resources are interconnected. What happens in one part of the landscape can impact on another.

Putting local people’s needs first

A landscape approach puts local people’s needs first. By making human wellbeing the primary focus of land-use planning and decision-making, it aims to promote sustainable land management practices and develop innovative solutions to ease pressure on the Earth’s resources.

How’s it done? There’s no standard blueprint: it is based on the local geographical context, so the mix of landscape measures that may be appropriate varies. As the World Bank points out, what you do depends on where you are. As a rule, a landscape approach aims to achieve a balance of environmental, social and economic benefits from the use of natural resources. It also involves impact monitoring and integration of lessons learned.

Thinking in terms of “landscape” is a new paradigm which makes perfect sense, especially in the context of the three Rio conventions. Climate change, biodiversity and land can only be managed through a balanced and complementary approach. But that’s not all – by focusing on maintaining healthy local ecosystems and livelihoods, a landscape approach can also help to reduce rural poverty. It’s a local approach with local benefits.

On the rise

Interest in landscape approaches is growing, with more than 100 active or recent whole landscape initiatives in Latin America and 150 in Africa, and 21 longstanding landscape management systems in Asia and the Middle East. The African Union’s Great Green Wall initiative, which aims to develop a green belt stretching across Africa from Senegal to Djibouti, is a typical multi-stakeholder landscape scheme. In Rwanda, the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation Project provides infrastructure to support sustainable land and water resources management. And the World Bank’s Loess Plateau Watershed rehabilitation project adopts an integrated landscape approach in China.

A landscape approach can be applied anywhere – also in the UNCCD context. Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja is committed to a landscape approach for the world’s drylands. As he said at a recent UN General Assembly side event: “A global alliance to invest in drylands, prevent degradation and scale up restoration through landscape approaches is needed.”

At the celebration of Land Day 5, Elwyn Grainger-Jones, Director of Environment and Climate Change at the International Fund for Agricultural Development, shared the message that “we need to operate at the landscape level” and stressed the need to give due attention to all the interconnections, for example, between ecosystems, people, farming, marketing systems, the impact of access to markets, and the complexity that exists in rural communities.

Moreover, the UNCCD’s Dryland Champions Initiative recognises projects which aim to protect productive lands and healthy soils from degradation and restore degraded lands via sustainable land management and related practices, including landscape measures.

In the UNCCD report to Rio+20, the convention secretariat tabled a global initiative to reach a target of zero net land degradation. More than two billion hectares of land worldwide could be suitable for rehabilitation through forest and landscape restoration.

There are high hopes of a landscape approach in forest conservation as well. According to the FAO’s Committee on Forestry (COFO), restoration of land “is best done by a landscape approach”. It could help to restore more than two billion hectares of deforested and degraded forest land worldwide. As Terry Sunderland, principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), explains: “Understanding the different functions of landscapes is vital to ensure that countries have more resilience and are able to better adapt to climatic changes and their impacts, such as food insecurity.”

So there’s strong backing for the landscape approach from many key stakeholders. Putting it into practice certainly makes sense – but may not be without its problems. The strength of this approach is that it considers a range of needs and interests. But without effective local governance, this could well turn out to be its weakness as well, for reconciling these diverse interests to everyone’s satisfaction is no easy task. But if implemented successfully, it will certainly pay off, with major benefits for our land, forests, biodiversity, climate, health and food security. No wonder the UNCCD is in favour.

Recognition for making a difference

A land-degradation neutral world will only become reality if people all over the world play their part. Everyone can make a difference – whether they are part of a small elementary school project or a groundbreaking transdisciplinary research programme.

The UNCCD has established two awards to honour all these contributions: they are the recently launched Dryland Champions Programme at the local and national level, and the international Land for Life Award.

Second round of the global Land for Life Award

In 2012, the inaugural Land for Life Award was one of the highlights on the UNCCD’s calendar. Three initiatives from Haiti, Turkey and Uganda won total prize money of USD 100,000 in recognition of their outstanding contributions to sustainable land management and prevention of land degradation.

In 2013, the Land for Life Award will go in its second round. A jury of renowned experts in the fields of development, sustainable land management and soil science will select three winners based on the innovation, inspiration, impact and replicability of their contributions to sustainable land management.

The deadline for applications is 15 March 2013. The UNCCD website provides further details of the award, eligibility criteria and the application process. Application forms are available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese.

Local and national Dryland Champions

In January 2013, the UNCCD launched its Dryland Champions Programme to recognise local actions that contribute to sustainable land management. As the campaign’s motto – “I am part of the solution” – suggests, the programme is open to everyone who would like to become a part of a growing community dedicated to safeguarding land and soil: youth groups and schools, individual adults, youth or children, businesses, industry, non-governmental and civil society organisations, community groups, municipalities, and First Nation/ethnic groups.

The programme recognises sustainable land management practices at the national or local level such as

  • 1. Preventing healthy soils from degradation and restoring degraded land
  • 2. Creating an enabling environment for sustainable land management
  • 3. Awareness raising and education activities
  • 4. Supporting alternative livelihoods in dryland ecosystems and investing
    in the sustainable development of drylands

The Dryland Champions Programme is implemented at the country level by the UNCCD National Focal Points. Dryland Champions will receive a certificate recognising their work and the opportunity to use the Dryland Champions logo. Their work will also be featured in media and communications about best practices from the UNCCD.

For further information, please contact ARCE@unccd.int


Base sustainable development goals on science

Gisbert Glaser, senior science-policy adviser to the International Council for Science, urges the United Nations’ working group to do their research: “I call on the rep¬resentatives of member states to put good scientific data at the heart of the process”, he says in a comment in Nature.

Gisbert Glaser’s comment as PDF

Final Report of Global Soil Week

Stakeholders from science, government, business and civil society came together to share their land and soil-related experience and expertise, and to develop future plans of action for sustainable land and soil management and governance at the first Global Soil Week in Berlin.

Outcome Paper as PDF
Chairman’s Conclusions as PDF
Rapporteurs’ Reports as PDF

Strategies for Combating Climate Change in Drylands Agriculture

Synthesis of dialogues and evidence presented at the International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands, Doha, Qatar, November, 2012

Changes in climate patterns are having their most acute effect on people living in the world’s dry areas and marginal lands. As these rural communities are largely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, it follows that improvements in agricultural research and 'integrated agro-ecosystem’ approaches are probably the primary protection from climate related problems. This is also why agricultural innovation, research, technology transfer and capacity building should be strategic priorities of the UNFCCC.

Report as PDF

4th International Conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification: Book of Abstracts

The conference focused on the outcome of Rio+20 and considered the science required for implementing the UNCSD recommendations relevant to drylands and desertification. Local case studies were highlighted alongside success stories from around the world with an emphasis on indicators of progress.

Book of Abstracts as PDF


About the UNCCD

Developed as a result of the Rio Summit, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is a unique instrument that has brought attention to the land degradation affecting some of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems in the world. The UNCCD has 195 Parties (194 countries plus the European Union) and is one of the three “Rio Conventions”, along with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNCCD is increasingly recognised as an instrument that can make an important contribution to the achievement of sustainable development and poverty reduction.

For more information: Awareness Raising, Communication and Education Unit, UNCCD
Tel: + 49 228 815 2800   Fax: + 49 228 815 2898   secretariat@unccd.int

Contact UNCCD News at newsbox@unccd.int


UNCCD News is published by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Editing: to the point communication (Susanne Reiff, Hillary Crowe) (Email)
Design: Rebus, Paris (Email)
Copyright ©2012 UNCCD (Email)

Photo credits: UNCCD; Trees for the Future/Flickr.com; IASS; Olive Thiong’o/CAFS; UNCCD, Rein Sulullerud/WFP; UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe; Marcus Prior/WFP; M. Tall/CCAFS West Africa, Agentur StandArt; P. Casier/CGIAR, Cornelia Walther/WFP; CGIAR Climate/Flickr.com; IASS, 2x Agentur StandArt; CGIAR Climate/Flickr.com, Olive Thiong’o/CCAFS; Adolf Lins/wikimedia commons; UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran; Global Adaptation/Flickr.com; Villiers/dreamstime.com